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UFC Fight Night 52 preview: High stakes shootout for Miesha Tate and Rin Nakai in Japan

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"I just want to come back with a vengeance. My ideal is just to make a statement and get people talking, 'Not only is she back, but she's back powerfully. She's stronger than ever. This wasn't a setback for her, this was a comeback.'" --Miesha Tate

Atsushi Tomura

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women's bantamweight titleholder Ronda Rousey is not only one of the biggest stars in women's mixed martial arts (MMA), she's also one of the biggest stars in all of combat sports, racking up 10 straight wins complemented by 10 brutal finishes.

And whether she's willing to admit it (or not), she owes a great deal of her success to Miesha Tate.

It was her rivalry with "Cupcake" -- which started in Strikeforce -- that put women's MMA on the map. While the blueprint was already in place thanks to Gina Carano and Cristiane Justino, the featherweight trailblazers who helped realize Scott Coker's vision, "Conviction" and "Cyborg" had something of a mutual respect.

Rousey and Tate flat out hated one another.

But after two convincing losses to "Rowdy," Tate has been forced to go to the back of the line, a place she's familiar with after Cat Zingano turned her inside out at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 Finale back in early 2013. A rebound win over Liz Carmouche kept her in the rankings, but it was a close victory that could have easily gone to "Girl-Rilla."

That's why her fight against Rin Nakai, which takes place in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 52, is do-or-die.

A victory and she's Urijah Faber, a former champion from another promotion who is good enough to beat most contenders, but not quite good enough to grab the gold. A loss and she's Alistair Overeem, a former champion from another promotion who forgot how to win a fight, but still has a big enough name to stay employed.

That's just one half of the equation.

At 16-0-1 with 10 finishes, Nakai is undoubtedly a formidable foe, but considered an "unknown" to the MMA masses after spending her entire career in Japan. What we do know is that she's built like a brick shithouse and lets scary-looking insects crawl on her face.

Probably not the kind of opponent subject to Octagon "jitters."

And just as a loss would be devastating for Tate, a win would be a loaded springboard for Nakai, who would undoubtedly become an instant title contender -- barring a three-round stinker or a controversial judges' decision. What other female fighter at 135 pounds can boast 17 wins, zero losses, and a victory over a former champion?

She would still play second fiddle to the likes of Carano, Zingano, and perhaps even Holly Holm, but those bantamweight rankings would get shuffled like a fresh deck of cards (and don't forget this dark horse). Not bad for a division that less than a year ago was considered the promotion's weakest.

What's currently missing from women's bantamweight, however, is a clear and established hierarchy. To date, it's been Rousey and everyone else, simply because the division is still trying to find itself. No fighter in the division top 15 -- the champ included -- has fought more than four times inside the Octagon.

Three of the top five have competed twice or less.

That means this division is still up for grabs and as a result, every bout has that "big" feel to it. That's because it gets the winner closer to Rousey, or in Tate's case, further away. Based on what we've seen from "Rowdy" thus far in her career, that may not be such a bad place to end up.

For more on UFC Fight Night 52, which takes place this Saturday (Sept. 20, 2014) on UFC Fight Pass, click here.